Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of an integrated America was about creating a more equal society, but to many white homeowners, it was a threat.
“Kill him,” a white mob chanted as Martin Luther King Jr. marched across Marquette Park in the late summer of 1966. King had recently moved to Chicago, and on that August afternoon, he joined a Chicago Freedom Movement march to demand that realtors not discriminate against black residents seeking to live in white neighborhoods. But a group of white counter-protesters grew violent and started hurling rocks, bottles, and bricks at the demonstrators, eventually striking King in the head. “I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I have never seen—even in Mississippi and Alabama—mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I’ve seen here in Chicago,” he said, shining light on a problem that white Northern liberals had ignored and let fester for far too long: de facto segregation.
Up until the civil-rights era, segregation was largely reinforced, if not promoted, by federal and local governments. In the 1930s, for example, the Federal Housing Administration incentivized developers to build suburbs for whites only, and the Public Works Administration built separate and unequal housing projects. After a series of Supreme Court cases deemed segregation unconstitutional in the 1940s and ‘50s, American neighborhoods continued to segregate without legal recognition, in a system known as “de facto.” And like de jure segregation—when the government legally engineered ghettos into existence—de facto segregation continues to exacerbate wealth and racial inequality today.
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